‘Split’ – A disservice to Dissociative Identity Disorder

‘Split’ – A disservice to Dissociative Identity Disorder

Split is a 2016 American psychological horror-thriller film that follows a man with 24 different alters (i.e. alternate state of consciousness), who kidnaps and imprisons three teenage girls in an isolated underground facility. Kevin Wendell Crumb, the antagonist, or the said ‘kidnapper’ is a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder (DID). 

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously known as multiple personality disorder (MPD), is a mental disorder characterized by the maintenance of at least two distinct and relatively enduring personality states. The illness is accompanied by memory gaps beyond what would be explained by ordinary forgetfulness. 

Other conditions that often occur in people with DID include: 

  1. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  2. Personality disorders (especially borderline and avoidant) 
  3. Depression 
  4. Substance use disorders 
  5. Conversion disorder 
  6. Somatic symptom disorder, 
  7. Eating disorders 
  8. OCD 
  9. Sleep disorders, and many more.

DID is associated with overwhelming traumas or abuse during childhood. In a majority of cases, there is a history of abuse in childhood, while other cases are linked to experiences of war, or medical procedures during childhood. 

Now that we have a brief information of DID, let’s talk about why the movie ‘Split’ is problematic and stigmatizes this complex mental disorder. There are two major reasons. 

1. The narrative portrays DID in a negative light

People are often uneducated about this mental disorder, and rely on popular stereotypes as a leaflet to understand it. Thus, many people consider DID to be dangerous, and scary. Many people (or systems) with DID often share that people turn their backs on them or cut ties once they share about the disorder. 

When DID patients already suffer from the backdrop of negative stereotyping, Split, rather than debunking the myth, glorifies it! It shows the antagonist with DID as a kidnapper, and a beast that you should be scared of, as he kills multiple people. 

The movie moves with the message that people with DID can be violent towards others when in reality, research shows that they are more likely to harm themselves, than others. 

In a statement about the movie, the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) cited a soon-to-be-released study of 173 people with DID. The researchers found that only 3 percent were charged with an offense, 1.8 percent were fined, and less than 1 percent were in jail over a six-month span. No convictions or probations were reported in that time period.

DID patients or systems have been working for years trying to educate people about their disorder, and this movie sets their efforts back dramatically.


2. Lack of Research and Observation

Between 1 and 3 percent of people in the world have DID. ‘It’s as common as Bulimia and even more common than Schizophrenia’, says Nin, the host of DID system who refer to themselves as ‘DissociaDID’ in an interview with Anthony Padilla. There is so much information on this disorder and so many people living with it – who are also willing to share their experience. 

However, James McAvoy – the star of the movie who portrays DID did not meet or interact with anyone living with the disorder. His research was on the basis of YouTube videos and directions from the director – which doesn’t seem enough to justify such a complex condition. The directors and producers should have talked to more systems with DID, asked for their opinion and made changes in the narrative and the portrayal. 

Elizabeth Howell, a psychotherapist from New York, said the film raises the potential for dangerous attitudes to emerge and for people with the illness to be damaged.

DID is a result of great trauma – why would a movie that could have curved the negative stereotype and helped the movement of DID systems, encourage it instead and put them at risk of further trauma? 

Movies are a part of pop-culture. Do you know why it’s called a ‘culture’? Because it has a significant impact on society. Movies can be a great service to bring social change. The movie Split fails tremendously in doing so. If they wanted to portray a criminal kidnapping girls and dramatically becoming a beast, why didn’t they agree on making that person a sociopath like Ted Bundy or a psychopath like Pablo Escobar? Showing negative as negative is necessary. But, functioning upon a negative stereotype and subjecting a large portion of the community to possible trauma and harm is not only tone-deaf and insensitive but downright criminal. 

If you want to learn about DID, if it truly fascinates you, if you want to educate yourselves, watching Split is not the way you do it. Here are several links to popular Youtubers, bloggers and activists who educate people on DID. Learn from them and be empathetic to everyone with this condition. 

  1. DissociaDID 
  1. Multiplicity and Me 
  1. What’s it Like to Live with Dissociative identity disorder (DID)? 
  1. Schizophrenia and Dissociative Disorder: Crash Course Psychology 
  1. 4 Facts about Dissociative identity disorder (DID) 
  1. Dissociative identity disorder and Trauma: GRCC Psychology Lectures 

6 thoughts on “‘Split’ – A disservice to Dissociative Identity Disorder

  1. To be honest, I have never seen this movie before and it sounds really interesting.
    I think, this movie will educate and will help us to understand the person who have this condition.
    I will definitely add this on my watch lists, thank you!

  2. Very interesting post! I learned something new today. I have read a book split is based upon, it is so fascinating what our mind can do

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